Olympic Dam Expansion

29 Jul 2011 archivespeech

This speech is to indicate that the Liberal Party will support the Olympic Dam Expansion motion.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (12:32): I rise to place some comments on the record in relation to this motion and indicate that the Liberal Party will support the motion, but I will make some comments in which I will point out some of the mischief in the mover's speech. It is actually calling on BHP to do what it has already said it is doing, and I note that the honourable member made that comment in his speech of 6 July, in which he quoted the President of the Uranium Customer Group of BHP Billiton, Mr Dean Della Valle, and it is worth repeating these comments as follows:

BHP Billiton, as the world's largest mining company, is well placed to develop a project of this importance and magnitude while ensuring best practice in health, safety, environmental management and community engagement.

Further, the honourable member quotes the Chairman of BHP Billiton, Mr Jac Nasser, who had also made those sort of commitments, saying:

The Olympic Dam project uses world's best practice and many areas of the project will establish world's leading practice and set a new benchmark for others to follow.

Furthermore, in the supplementary EIS, BHP itself says in that document—and I quote from section 29.7 in relation to the 'Review, update and continuous improvement of the environmental management framework':

The Olympic Dam operation currently implements an ISO 14,001 certified EMS Environmental Management System, which provides a robust tool for environmental management and monitoring, ensuring legal and other requirements are met and facilitating ongoing checking, revision and improvement. The EMS would be revised and updated to ensure the requirements of the expansion project, the outcomes of the environmental impact assessment and the EIS commitments and approval conditions were captured.

Further, in section 29.9, 'Environmental reporting, transparency and independent verification', it states:

BHP Billiton currently communicates the environmental performance outcomes of the Olympic Dam operation publically in the annual environmental management and monitoring report. BHP Billiton also specifically reports against the objectives of the EM program to the relevant South Australian government agencies...These annual reports are available for downloading via the PIRSA website.

Because I have mentioned the mischief, I would like to refer to some of the advice we have received that raises several issues: best practice, which I have touched on; waste management practices; the tailings; the issues and concerns that he has raised with acidity; and overburden and surplus ore. I will touch on those issues.

Further comments in relation to best practice are that the advice that we have received is that the standards specified in the various acts and regulations that apply to Olympic Dam have been adopted as the minimum standard at the existing operation. BHP Billiton's objective is to exceed these minimum requirements by adopting lead practices in mining and minerals processing.

In relation to waste, there were comments again. I note that the former minister, who preceded me, the Hon. Paul Holloway, also touched on the issue of the Ranger mine, which I certainly understand has quite different geological issues and other things, which make comparisons difficult. The advice we have had is that the EIS demonstrated the ability to reduce impacts for risks and tailings storage to acceptable levels for the specific environmental conditions.

As to tailings and backfilling, the advice I have received is that to backfill the open pit, as the Hon. Mr Parnell has suggested, would take approximately the same time as the original mining operation—that is, between 40 and 100 years—and would re-expose the material that was already encapsulated within the rock storage facility (RSF) and the tailings storage facility (TSF). Not only would the cost of such an exercise be prohibitive but it would significantly increase the predicted environmental impacts, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, by operating electric rope shovels and a haul truck fleet. The proposed tailings storage facility has been designed to meet or exceed the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) stability requirements for tailings dams. The EIS analysis indicates that the proposed tailings storage facility will remain stable even following a one in 10,000-year magnitude earthquake.

In relation to the acidity issues, the advice I have received is that geochemical test work for the EIS to characterise potential seepage quality from the RSF overall found that the RSF and LGS would be net acid consuming, and therefore seepage is expected to be neutral and not acidic, as opposed to the Hon. Mr Parnell's suggestion that an acidic leachate would be generated. Both the LGS and RSF would be built on a benign material base so that water coming into contact with reactive material would have to travel through overburden material, which has a high acid neutralising capacity and an ability to attenuate any dissolved metals naturally before it leaves through the base of the facility.

On the final matter, which is the overburden, the advice I have received is that the Hon. Mr Parnell has suggested the use of a vegetated limestone cap for the TSF. The EIS outlines that vegetation growth on the TSF would be discouraged in order to mitigate the potential for plant roots to uptake metals that may expose native fauna and stock to risk while grazing.

While I have this opportunity, I would also like to make some comments in relation to some mischief, I think, that the honourable mover has made in relation to comments made by my leader on the issue of the desal plant. In a media release fairly recently, the honourable member says:
Recently on ABC radio, Ms Redmond said that the nearest cuttlefish to the outfall pipe for the proposed BHP Billiton desalination plant at Pt Lowly will be 3kms away, with 10kms to the main cuttlefish breeding grounds.

Yet, BHPB Uranium President Dean Dalla Valle has said the pipeline will be only 800 metres from the nearest point of cuttlefish breeding grounds.

'The Opposition Leader has a huge responsibility to get her facts straight on an issue as important as this one,'...

The facts of the matter are that the actual pipe is 800 metres long, not 800 metres from the nearest cuttlefish breeding grounds and that the end of that pipe is three kilometres from Black Point or Weeroona Bay and 10 kilometres away from Backy Point, which are the two main cuttlefish breeding grounds. My leader's statements do not deviate from the facts in any way, and I believe that in her interviews she has clearly stated that the outfall would be some three kilometres and 10 kilometres, respectively, from the cuttlefish areas.

I do note the time frame for approvals of this project. Obviously, we have been through the EIS, and the SEIS was released on 13 May. There is a process, internal to government, which members on this side of the house will not have access to until that has been completed. I note that a whole-of-government report to assess the EIS and SEIS (known as the assessment report) is being prepared for ministerial and cabinet consideration as required under the Development Act.

The Department of Planning and Local Government is coordinating this assessment report, and SARDI is one of the key agencies working on the report. Through that process a number of matters will be discussed, including all the environmental issues as have been raised, and that there are also concurrent processes which are taking place with the federal government and the Northern Territory government.

The time frame relating to this is that by December this year those three governments will be expected to deliver approvals with conditions. There will be negotiations on an indenture act governing the management of the area, which is something that will obviously come to this place to be considered. By March next year, the BHP board is to vote on whether the expansion will proceed. Following that, there will be the expansion of Roxby Downs, the building of the Hiltaba Village and commencement of removal of the overburden. In the meantime, there are ongoing discussions.

This is diverting a little bit from the subject (because the topic of the motion does not discuss the desalination issue), but I note that the fishing industry has released a report entitled 'Scientific Assessment of BHP's Supplementary EIS of a Proposed Desalination Plant for the Upper Spencer Gulf'. Ongoing issues will continue to arise, but I note that the company itself is working towards satisfying these matters and we look forward to those continuing discussions.